Written by Tom Fitton
This week a group of Special Operations veterans unfurled a 60-foot petition on the steps of the U.S. Capitol demanding answers on the Benghazi cover-up. These heroes face a significant stone wall erected by the Obama administration to keep secret the truth behind the Benghazi attacks, which resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Judicial Watch is once again forced to go to court to hold the Obama administration’s feet to the fire over what is one of the most serious scandals and cover-ups in recent memory.
On June 21, 2013, we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Obama Department of State. We are trying to obtain the “updates and/or talking points” given to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice concerning the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Specifically, pursuant to an October 18, 2012, FOIA request filed with the State Department, these are the records we want:
Once again, answers are in short supply. The State Department acknowledged receiving our FOIA request on October 26, 2012, and was required by law to respond within 20 working days. As of the date of JW’s lawsuit, however, the department has failed to produce a single record responsive to the request. State has also failed to indicate when any responsive records will be produced, or demonstrate that responsive records are exempt from production.
Here’s why these records are so vital.
Following the Benghazi attack, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Rice joined Hillary Clinton in a high-profile campaign to portray the attack as solely related to a privately produced YouTube video that Muslims reportedly found offensive. On the Sunday following the attack, Rice went on five TV talk shows, repeatedly claiming that the attack was “a spontaneous – not a premeditated response” to “a hateful video that was disseminated on the Internet.”
Shortly thereafter, on the eve of a congressional hearing, the Obama administration was forced to admit that Rice and others had provided false information, and that the attack was neither spontaneous nor the result of an Internet video.
On September 28, 2012, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reported that their “revised” assessment had determined the attack to be “a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists” and that “some of those involved were linked to groups affiliated with, or sympathetic to, al-Qa’ida.”
But as Fox News reported, according to General Carter Ham, the head of U.S. forces in Africa, it was apparent “within hours” not weeks that Benghazi was an act of terror.
Last week, General Ham told the Aspen Security Forum that he was in a meeting with Secretary of Defense Panetta and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey when word of the attack came in: “It became apparent to all of us quickly that this was not a demonstration, this was a violent attack,” Ham said.
Nonetheless, Rice, on behalf of President Obama, took to the talk shows immediately following the attack to advance the false narrative blaming an Internet video. The claim has been made that they were simply reading from the talking points they were given. But which talking points?
Former CIA Director General David Petraeus reportedly testified before Congress that the initial talking points produced by the CIA “stated there were indications the attack was linked to al Qaeda,” and suggested the terrorism reference was removed sometime during an interagency review process.
So what happened between the time of General Ham’s meeting with Panetta and General Dempsey, the CIA-generated talking points that noted the terrorist connection and Ambassador Rice’s Sunday talk circuit circus? Given the lies and the spin and the contradictions, we want the records. That’s the only way to clear this web of lies up.
The lawsuit for the underlying talking points and updates given to Rice for her controversial media appearances is the fourth FOIA lawsuit Judicial Watch has filed in its continuing efforts to uncover the full story of what transpired within the Obama administration before, during, and after the Benghazi attack.
And we did log one small victory for transparency.
As I reported a few weeks ago, in response to one of our other FOIA lawsuits, on June 6, 2013, Judicial Watch obtained the first seven photos released to the public by the State Department depicting the carnage at the Benghazi consulate. These photos are significant, not so much for what they show, but rather because they represent the first leak in the Benghazi stonewall.
The Obama administration hopes that stonewalling Benghazi answers will make the scandal go away. But that never works. On the contrary, there is a groundswell of Americans who want accountability for Benghazi. This new FOIA lawsuit further highlights the Obama administration’s utter contempt for transparency.
And, as if the Obama administration’s disdain for FOIA law were not enough, there is also the issue of witness intimidation.
As reported by the Daily Caller, evidently the Obama administration has intimidated and threatened people who witnessed the Benghazi attack which has delayed congressional investigations. In fact, last week, Congressman Frank Wolf said he had it on good authority that Benghazi witnesses have been forced by the Defense Department and the CIA to sign non-disclosure agreements preventing them from testifying to what they saw. Some of these agreements, as reported by Human Events, were signed as recently as this summer.
Stonewalling, lying, witness intimidation…these are the tactics we see employed time and time again by the Obama administration. It’s time to put an end to it.
Once again, if you want access to some of the key facts related to Benghazi, as opposed to the spin you get from the Obama administration, check out this prescient Judicial Watch Special Report entitled “The Benghazi Attack of September 11, 2012.”
And I’ll be sure to update you on the progress of our Benghazi lawsuits in this space.
Ever see a high pressure sales job on a used car lot? You know, where the salesman with the slicked back hair and the bad cologne tries to stick you with a lemon. His job is to get you off the lot at sticker price before you realize the car has no power steering or air conditioning.
Well that’s exactly what we’ve seen from the very beginning with the president’s healthcare overhaul boondoggle known as Obamacare. (The Obama administration has already given businesses a one-year delay for implementation, conveniently shifting the mess past Election Day 2014, while businesses are moving to hire more part-time workers to avoid the penalties required by the law.)
As JW has uncovered, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has used every dirty trick in the book to shove Obamacare down our throats. The agency bankrolled a $200 million propaganda campaign to “persuade” the American people that the healthcare monstrosity would be in their best interest and trotted out aging television star Andy Griffith for a “public service” campaign. HHS also spent $1.4 million to make “a big guerilla campaign splash” on the Internet through paid advertisements targeting Hispanics, blacks and women.
And now we learn that HHS was ready – on moment-one after Obamacare passage – to bypass compensation rules to hire a legion of high-priced government employees to push the lemon off the lot.
According to documents we released this week, on the day Obamacare passed, HHS obtained permission from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to cast aside normal hiring procedures in order to hire 1,814 highly-paid, top-level administrators to expedite Obamacare implementation.
According to the documents obtained by JW, OPM Director John Berry gave HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Resources Denise Wells extraordinary “direct-hire appointing authority” (DHA) in order to bypass normal channels and, in Berry’s words, “hire quickly in order to execute the President’s directive with respect to implementing health care reform.” In all, HHS was granted permission to utilize what Wells termed the DHA “valuable human capital recruitment tool” to hire 1,814 GS 13 – 15 employees, including:
According to the Base General Schedule Pay Scale, in 2010, the nearly 2,000 new employees hired to “quickly” implement the Obamacare program would have received between $70,000 and $130,000 per year. More than 1,100 of the new employees would have come in at the GS-15 level, starting at nearly $100,000 annually. The Daily Mail took a look at our documents that the Obama administration sought to spend $159 million a year on these new Obamacare government employees.
But there’s more.
Additional documents obtained by Judicial Watch reveal that, in early 2013, Anne Filipic, the president of Enroll America (a nonprofit “tasked with selling Obamacare”), worked with then-professional staff member of the House Ways and Means Committee Debra Curtis to organize Obamacare congressional briefings explicitly excluding Republican House members and their staffs. (Filipic is a former Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and Deputy Director at HHS.)
Among the highlights from the records:
(Once again, we see evidence that the president, who was supposed to usher in a new era of bipartisanship, has instead inspired divisiveness and exclusion.)
Filipic is also at the center of a growing controversy involving possible illegal Obamacare fundraising done on behalf of Filipic’s Enroll America by her former boss at HHS, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. On May 10, 2013, the Washington Post broke the story that in “an unusual fundraising push” Sebelius was pressuring health care industry officials regulated by HHS to make donations to Enroll America. On May 14, Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee sent a letter to Sebelius saying, “Our initial reaction is that this appears at best to be an inherent conflict of interest and at worst a potentially illegal augmentation of appropriation.”
In a follow-up letter on June 27, a group of 28 Republican senators admonished Sebelius, “Article I of the Constitution gives Congress alone the power of the purse. Your agency requested additional money to implement the exchanges, and Congress denied that request. You cannot evade Congress’ Constitutional power of the purse through gifts or donations to an entity that appears to be ‘just an arm of the administration,’ as one health industry official described Filipic’s Enroll America in The Hill.” The House Commerce Committee is currently investigating the Sebelius solicitations.
Even as the ill-conceived Obamacare law continues to crumble, we are learning more and more about its massive cost to the American people the and backroom politics attendant to its passage and implementation.
Barack Obama and his cohorts created a bureaucratic contrivance to hand massive new powers to an already bloated federal government. And the cost in tax dollars, jobs, the rule of law, and individual freedom is becoming increasingly clear.
And the scary part is…this is only the beginning.
Judicial Watch recently joined a coalition with a very important mission: To protect the religious freedoms of our men and women in uniform.
It is a sad day indeed when there needs to be a coalition to preserve what has been recognized as a basic right for American servicemen and women (and all Americans) for 237 years. But that is the state of affairs in Obama’s military.
There’s the Air Force officer who was forced to remove a Bible from his desk because it might offend someone. There’s the military chaplain who was instructed to resign his commission if he refused to “get on board” with the abolition of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. There’s the 20-year old ethics course that was eliminated in July 2011 because it referenced scripture. And there’s the painting containing a verse from scripture that was forcibly removed from the Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho following a complaint by an anti-religious support group.
Did you ever imagine there would come a day when referencing scripture would be deemed “extremist” in this country? And these are but a few examples. And that’s why we’re joining this new coalition.
On July 9, I was pleased to participate in the inaugural Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition press conference at the U.S. Capitol to address the erosion of military religious freedoms. In addition to Judicial Watch other groups represented at the press conference included the Family Research Council, the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, the Center for Security Policy, the Media Research Center, Liberty Counsel Action, the Center for Military Readiness, and the Ohio Faith and Freedom Coalition. I want to particularly note the leadership of our friends at Family Research Council in moving this coalition forward.
Press conference speakers included Representatives John Fleming (R-LA), Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX).
Here is the coalition’s mission as described on its official website http://www.militaryfreedom.org:
The history of religious expression in American military life dates back to the Revolutionary War. For over 200 years our servicemen and women have lived their faith in service to their country, often making the ultimate sacrifice. Unfortunately, in recent years, we have seen an increase in hostility to religious expression in the military. The Restore Military Religious Freedom coalition is committed to restoring and ensuring the religious freedoms of our military men and women who risk their lives every day for our freedoms.
(By the way, if you want to know more about this critical issue, please take a moment to click here and read the FRC’s report A Clear and Present Danger: The Threat to Religious Liberty in the Military.)
Now, there is legislation working its way through the Hill right now that addresses the coalition’s prime goal. As reported by Breitbart.com:
On June 5, the House Armed Services Committee adopted two amendments for the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014, which governs the Department of Defense during the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2013.
The first amendment was offered by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC). It protects the rights of chaplains to speak and pray in a manner consistent with their faith, such as ending a prayer in Jesus’ name. This amendment passed by voice vote…
[The second] amendment is the most consequential. Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) offered an amendment specifying that the religious speech and actions of all service members is a protected right, and that the Department of Defense will enact regulations to allow and accommodate those beliefs in both word and deed.
Separately, Judicial Watch is pursuing a number of Freedom of Information Act requests concerning this core issue of religious freedom in our military. I am convinced that the Left wants to remake the military in a way as to make it to unappealing to God-fearing Americans. The attack on this pillar of American freedom must be exposed, answered and stopped – whether through legislation or public pressure (and a lawsuit or two!).
In the meantime, I encourage you to get the word about this issue and to make your views about the importance of military religious freedom known in no uncertain terms to your elected representatives.
Until next week...
Tom Fitton, President
Judicial Watch, Inc., a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law. Through its educational endeavors, Judicial Watch advocates high standards of ethics and morality in our nation's public life and seeks to ensure that political and judicial officials do not abuse the powers entrusted to them by the American people. Judicial Watch fulfills its educational mission through litigation, investigations, and public outreach.